Continuing Tales

Twists of Fate

A Crossovers Story
by Stormlight

Part 3 of 14

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Twists of Fate

Life sucked. That was the best way Sarah Williams knew how to describe it. It seriously, irrevocably sucked, and she was being sucked right along with it...right down the Universal Toilet. Oh, sure, she was well off for being only twenty three years old. She had a nice studio apartment in downtown New York City, possibly one of the most thrilling cities in the world to live in, and a career that most others her age could only dream about.

She was an actress. Oh, not a well-known movie star actress. Not even a well- known Broadway actress. She was more like a not-so-well-known understudy to the understudy of the woman who starred as Christine Daae in The Phantom of the Opera, and a chorus girl on the side. As yet, she had not made any use of her role as understudy, since the first understudy was in a disgustingly perfect state of health and had as yet to fall ill with any serious diseases, such as the common cold, since Sarah had started on, near three years ago now.

So, she was as content as was possible with going onstage, performing her little dance numbers with the other not-so-well-known chorus girls, and spending the rest of her time contemplating on throwing herself off a high roof...such as the Empire State Building...and putting and end to her not-so-perfect life.

Where had the thrill gone, she often wondered. How had she become so bitter in the five years since she'd graduated high school? She remembered when she was fifteen, way back...Oh! Centuries ago, it seemed. Was it only eight years? It felt like so much longer. She had been so full of her dreams and ambitions, and then...that had happened. That night when she'd had to baby-sit her baby brother, and had lost her temper and...and...had that really awful dream!

That's how she thought of it. As a dream. It was much safer to think of it as a dream, because she knew that as soon as she admitted to herself that Jareth and the Labyrinth and everything in it was real...she'd be headed for a nervous breakdown and possibly a trip to a rubber-padded room. It was much safer to put away all that, to lock it away in her mind and forget about it except as some figment of her childish imagination. That's what Karyn would have said. Karyn, her stepmother-the- psychologist who was filled with nothing but logic and cold, hard facts.

Magic wasn't real, she'd say. Therefore, neither was anything that had to do with magic, such as shape-changing Labyrinths, and shape-changing, absolutely gorgeous Goblin Kings with a bad personality complex. Or goblins. Or crystal balls. Or noble fox hybrids with knightly duties. Or giant shaggy beasts who could talk to rocks. Neither were grumpy, endearing dwarves who sprayed pretty, vicious fairies as a hobby. Or wild, flame-colored creatures who played kickball with their own heads...and yours, if you'd give 'em half a chance at it...Or swamps that smelled like every garbage heap and dead carcass in the world piled out in a hot, desert sun and left to rot.

And yet, Sarah had seen these things, had lived them in her dreams, could still hear the words spoken by those not-real creatures, could still remember the smell of that non-existent Bog...could still feel *his* eyes burning into her own, pleading and cruel...that mocking smile on his lips that nevertheless held a certain hint of tenderness in them when he'd held her in his arms and danced with her...She could still see the devastation of his gaze when she'd repeated those six little words in the final confrontation...

"It was a *dream*!" Sarah reminded herself, quite forcefully, as she changed from her costume into her street clothes. It was Friday night, another show was over, and she was preparing to go home, exhausted as always after two separate performances a day, seven days a week. It used to be that she'd been exhausted and *exhilarated* after each performance. When she'd first started at this job, and had performed each day, and had heard the cheers and claps of the audience, a thrill of delight would pass through her, and she'd tell herself, one day, that audience would be clapping for *her*!

One day...

That one day wasn't going to happen until she was sixty years old, at the rate it was going, she thought despondently. How long was she going to be stuck in the sidelines, watching as everyone moved on without her? It didn't help, she knew, that she felt so...*tired* all the time. It felt like her life was slowly being drained, day after day, by some invisible vampire. A vampire called New York. The city life was not what it was cracked up to be, she now knew. Her real mother, whom she'd not heard from in nearly ten years, had used to tell her all sorts of stories about the glamorous life of living in the big city, of meeting famous people, hobnobbing with the elite of society...

The closest Sarah had ever come to hobnobbing with society was the occasional cast party that she was once in awhile invited to...mostly when the more famous actors, occasionally after a show, got themselves drunk enough to forget that she was a Nobody Important, and would extend her an invite in a gesture of drunken good will. But those cast parties were not what one would think them to be, and besides, the only famous people there were the cast, which she saw every day anyhow, and so it wasn't any big deal. The closest she had ever come to meeting a Big Star was bumping into Jerry Springer on the street one day when she was late for a performance. She didn't even like Jerry Springer.

Sarah sighed and pulled on her shoes. Time to go home and relax. Most others her age would be doing the party scene at the underground clubs about now, what with it being close to midnight and all. Not Sarah. She was going home to her comfortable apartment, just like every other Friday evening, pour herself a glass of champagne like she always did to help her relax, and watch the Late Show on her small television, just like normal.

She knew it was pathetic, her life. She should be dating guys, maybe even be married by now. She was only twenty three, but her real mother had been nineteen when she'd married Sarah's dad. But Sarah just wasn't interested in dating. She'd been asked out plenty of times, and she knew that most guys considered her to be pretty, if not downright beautiful. She'd grown as she'd gotten older. She was thin and willowy with a dancer's build, thanks to her years of training in her dance classes, and then the dancing she did every day at the theater.

She was taller now, too, standing just at six feet. Her thick dark hair hung to her waist in soft curls, due to a perm that another girl she worked with had recommended, had even paid for as a birthday gift for Sarah. As pretty as it looked, Sarah swore to herself never again. It had taken them *six hours* to get that perm done, with four of those hours spent in wrapping it, and the chemicals had burned her eyes until she could hardly see, and the smell had made her sick for days afterward. Not only that, but her scalp had been burned by the harsh chemicals, because her hair wouldn't "take" right, as the hairdresser claimed. So it had taken a half hour more before they finally were satisfied, never mind the little holes that now resided permanently on her scalp. She was afraid for days that she'd end up losing all her hair! Definitely, never again!

Her eyes, perhaps, were her most attractive, if not her most unusual, feature. Those dark, hazel eyes with long lashes that had never felt the touch of a mascara brush held a mysterious, haunted look about them that attracted men as much as it repelled them. It was as if she were looking into worlds that couldn't be seen by the mortal eye. Worlds that existed only in one's imagination...

If only they knew...

Shaking her head, Sarah slung her gym bag over her shoulder and, with a forced cheery goodnight to the few other girls lingering in the dressing room, she headed out the door, portable electric shocker gripped firmly in hand. This was the part she hated. The long walk home. So far, in the five years she'd lived in this city, she had never been mugged, but there was a first time for everything. She wasn't willing to take a cab (as she always managed to get the ones with the drivers who looked like escaped convicts from Alcatraz), and she didn't relish the thought of waiting for the odd bus to show up. She lived too close to the theater to warrant taking the subway, not that she would at this time of night, unless she had a serious deathwish. With her apartment, she couldn't afford a car, and she wasn't too keen on driving with all the crazies in New York traffic, anyway. So, her only option was to walk the five blocks home.

Taking a deep breath and making sure her shocker was ready for use, she stepped out of the theater and began to walk swiftly down the street, her heels clicking loudly on the sidewalk. She cringed, wishing that she'd worn running shoes instead. High-heels were not the best to run in should she need to do so. "Don't think about that," she muttered. "Happy thoughts. Think happy thoughts..."

And what was she? Peter Pan?

She made herself think of the birthday gift she'd just bought and sent to her little brother, who was turning nine. Toby was a sweet kid, a miniature replica of his dad, only with more hair. Sarah grinned at that thought. Toby was a fantasy lover, just like she was...had his age, up until she was fifteen and...everything changed. She'd been shopping and had seen a beautiful print of a white wolf in a display window. Its head was thrown back in a full- throated howl and it stood proud and strong against a background of deep, midnight blue with a full, glowing moon circling its head like a halo, casting glimmers of silver light across its back, giving it an unearthly glow. She had been entranced at the sight of it, set in a wooden frame of deep mahogany. It was expensive, but she knew Toby would love it. So she bought it.

She'd also bought one for herself. At least, she'd wanted one for herself. But the print they'd given her had ended up being something altogether different. When she'd opened it, she had discovered, rather than a wolf, a print of a large, snowy-white owl cast against the backdrop of a silver moon, its claws extended forward as though ready to snatch its prey, with its wings outstretched and glowing with unearthly light as its golden eyes glared defiantly straight into Sarah's own. She'd immediately shoved the painting back into the box and had sat there, breathing erratically, with her heart pounding in her chest and her eyes staring at the floor, wide with shock. It was only a print, she knew. Just a glorified poster set in a gilt frame of silver, and yet the shock of seeing it had done something to her that confused and frightened her. It was if her past was coming back to haunt her...

She'd taken the print and shoved it in the back of her closet, and that's where it had stayed for the past week.

Tomorrow was Toby's birthday. His gift should be arriving soon, if it hadn't already. She'd shipped it express mail to make sure it arrived in California in time for his birthday. She'd wanted to bring it home to him herself, but her career wouldn't allow for it. Just like last year. And the year before. In fact, ever since moving to New York to start her new life, she'd not been home once in all that time, even before she'd gotten her job. She'd invited her family here many times, but they always found some excuse not to come.

She knew it was because she and Karyn didn't get along. Although, after that...dream she'd had, she had started to realize how much she really loved her brother, she and her stepmother still fought like cats and dogs. Sarah was too old to really accept another mother, and Karyn was too set in her ways to let Sarah live her own life. At eighteen, Sarah had graduated high school, and she'd packed up her things, taken the substantial amount of money she'd hoarded over the years, and had moved to New York in search of her dreams.

And she'd found them. It helped, she knew, to have a mother who was a famous actress as a reference, even though she'd not heard from said mother in a very long time. But apparently that reference was enough to go on, even though she'd never had any real training as an actress other than the classes she took in high school and in the two year acting course she'd taken at the community college on weekends. After nearly two years of worry and part-time work at various fast-food joints, with auditions in between, she'd been accepted for her current position as the understudy-to-the-understudy-and-a-chorus-girl-on-the- side.

So, why wasn't she thrilled?

Because she knew, deep down inside, that ever since that...dream...had been visited upon her, she'd never felt fulfilled. It was as if a big chunk of her soul had been ripped out of her body, and she had as yet to find the missing piece, or some replacement for it. Acting, at first, had filled it. She was finally what she always wanted to be, even though it was only a bit part, but after awhile that thrill just...drained out of her, like sand through a sieve. She had as yet to find a way to reclaim it again.

She'd once thought to ask one of her closer friends (not that she had any really close friends) at the theater if she'd ever felt the same way. The girl, Jessica was her name, and given Sarah a "look" and had asked, quite firmly, who the guy was. Sarah, of course, had been properly confused, stating that she didn't know any "guy", and that all she wanted to know was that if it ever felt like life sucked.

Jessica, being the wise soul that she was, not to mention a vintage matchmaker, had firmly told Sarah that what she was feeling was most likely a case of unrequited love, and she'd probably continue to feel that way until she found the creep who'd broken her heart and either had one last fling in which she'd break his heart for once, or she'd have to shoot him on sight. Sarah had walked away determined never to ask Jessica for advice again.

But the woman's words had haunted Sarah's mind for weeks now. Unrequited love? Her condition certainly seemed to fit the description Jessica had given her, and she'd read enough cheesy romance novels for lack of anything better to do. But...she'd never *had* a lover to have unrequited love with! So how could it possibly be that? The closest she'd ever come was with...

Well, *that* hadn't really happened, and so there was no point in even thinking about it! Besides, he was the Bad Guy. She couldn't be in love with a Bad Guy, even if he was real. That wasn't the way things were supposed to work.

Finally, Sarah made it home, and she eagerly sprinted the flight of stairs to her cozy studio apartment, locking the three locks on her door securely behind her. She breathed a sigh of relief and tossed her bag onto the couch, heading into the bedroom to change. A brown paper package caught her eye. Oh yeah. That. She frowned and walked over to the bed and picked up the bag, pulling out its contents.

It was a book. Rather, two of them. A small, red, leather-bound book with gold embossed on the cover. Its title was "Labyrinth". Also was a paperback version of that same novel, with a picture of a snowy owl on the cover and the hint of burning eyes in the background. She shivered and shoved the paperback into the bag. She then proceeded to run the bag through the paper shredder on her desk. It made a strange grinding noise as it fought to devour the thick package its owner had so mercilessly shoved down its gullet. It made it about halfway through before finally giving up the ghost, and died with a grinding cough and a shudder as the smell of burning oil filled the air. Sarah scowled at the ruined shredder. "Quitter," she muttered, before yanking the book out and finishing the job with her non-dulling steak knife.

Okay, so maybe she was a little obsessive. She didn't know *why* she was obsessive. Just that...that book gave her the creeps! Ever since the...the dream, she'd never been able to look at that novel again without feeling the chills creep up and down her spine. She was convinced that it was evil. That all copies of the book were evil. They were rare, thank goodness, being out of print, but she'd begun a tradition, starting with her own leather-bound copy, of destroying any that she came across. Such as the two that she'd found on a dusty shelf in an antique bookstore that morning. The paperback had cost her fifteen bucks, and the leather-bound even more, but she'd hurriedly bought both copies, ignoring the look the shopkeeper gave her; she'd already purchased two more copies from that store alone just a month or two ago. He probably wondered if she wasn't a little obsessed with it...

He had no idea! He could not possibly know the hell she'd gone through because of that book, the dreams she'd had since that first one! That one dream in particular...of her and the Goblin King dancing over and over and over again...all night long, his sad, cruel, haunted eyes piercing her own and that sensuous mouth whispering her name before bending to kiss her...right before she woke up. He never did kiss her, and to her fury some part of her was extremely disappointed about that.

"I have to get a grip," she muttered, clutching the leather book tightly in her hands. "This is starting to drive me crazy." She stared at the book; the exact replica of the one she'd used to own. She knew she should destroy it, burn it in her sink, no matter how much it might stink or smoke, or how much her landlord would yell. She had to burn it. It was the only way to assure what? That no other unsuspecting girl would wish their baby brother to the Labyrinth? That the Goblin King wouldn't have another victim to play his little games with? She shut her eyes and concentrated on breathing in and out, in and out...

"Yoga's a stupid exercise, anyway," she growled, and opened her eyes again. She looked at the book, and a strange, overwhelming impulse came upon her, telling her to **Open the book! Read the words again! Remember how much you loved the story? How much you loved to act out the part...?** The voice had the strangest hint of a British accent...

"No!" she snapped, tossing it down. "I'm never opening this thing again! I'm not going to let a stupid book run my life!"

The voice laughed at her...a very mocking laugh.

It infuriated her, and she picked up the book and hurled it out the open window. "So there!" she hissed as she watched it land in the dumpster three stories down. "Let's see what happens to it at the bottom of a garbage heap!"

The voice laughed harder, and she could have sworn she heard it whisper, "Such a pity..."

She growled deep in her throat, slammed the window shut, and prepared to go to bed for another night of restless dreams...

* * * * *

The Lady watched as the book sailed ungracefully into the dumpster, and shook her head, smiling at the girl's impulsiveness. She, too, had heard that voice, as the magic one called Jareth called out to the girl...Sarah was her name?... through his power. She traced a pale finger over the cover of the book, and turned to a young man who crouched nearby, having seen the book fall. The window above slammed shut, and the unkempt man scurried forward toward the dumpster, unaware of the Golden Lady that stood there.

* * * * *

Shaking his shaggy head, the scruffy boy leaned over the dumpster and picked up the book, whispering, "Perfectly good book! Thrown out and away. Mouse finds! Mouse keeps!" He paused as a thought crossed his mind, remembering that he couldn't read. Hmmm...what use had he for a book if he couldn't read? But he was a packrat by nature, and was not inclined to let a treasure like this pass him by. The book's cover was shiny and new, and the golden word seemed to glow. He liked gold. Made for good wire. He shrugged. "Mouse find. Mouse keep," he repeated. "Good for the kids. Father likes to read. Maybe read to Mouse." Never mind that Mouse's attention span was worse than that of a five-year-old. He tucked his treasure into his cloak and silently crept away.

* * * * *

She smiled as she watched him leave, this odd young man. She knew him, knew his Life-thread, a pale yellow full of curiosity, was woven in with the others that she had known. His part, small though it was, was still no less important to the play. She nodded, her lovely face filled with satisfaction. This was good.

Twists of Fate

A Crossovers Story
by Stormlight

Part 3 of 14

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